On Christmas Day, 1845, the New York Tribune encouraged its readers to visit a “Model of New Haven,” which opened that day in the Granite Building, on the corner of Broadway and Chambers street. The exhibition, which cost 25 cents to see, also included models of a number of public buildings and “the Mormon Temple at Nauvoo.”
While models of ships and even buildings seem to have been common, even in 1845, models of entire cities were unusual. Even today it is somewhat rare to see such an ambitious project—the best known such model here in New York was prepared for the 1964 Worlds Fair exhibition and is currently located in the Queen Museum. Before I came across the 1845 Tribune article, I’d never even imagined that any earlier attempt to model an entire city had been made.
The New Haven model was created by Ezekiel Porter Belden, then a recent graduate from Yale Law School and later a lawyer in Ossining, NY (then called Sing Sing) and the editor of the New York Journal of Commerce. He also wrote an early book on New York City, New York, Past, Present, and Future (1849).
The choice of a model of the Nauvoo Temple should not be surprising to those familiar with public perceptions at the time. The Temple was often mentioned in newspaper articles, and even praised for its architecture. It was often called one of the most important new buildings in the U. S. at the time.
By the following March, Belden was advertising in the New York Tribune that he the exhibit would be shuttered in favor of a new exhibit, a model of the entire city of New York. Reportedly the carved wooden model featured “every building, every street and landmark, even every shanty – as far north as 32nd Street. This model was 24 feet long and 20 feet wide and contained 200,000 buildings with over 2 million windows and 150,000 chimneys. It cost $20,000 to build — perhaps as much as $500,000 in today’s value — an astronomical sum at the time. Belden claimed to have used 150 assistants in creating the model, which he planned to take on a tour of the U. S. at one point.
How accurate Belden’s model of the Nauvoo Temple was I can’t say. I assume that it and his other models are no longer extant. It could be that Belden visited Nauvoo at some point, and therefore had very good information — the exterior of the Nauvoo Temple was completed by the end of 1845, so a model was possible. However, without a visit, I’m not sure that any accurate model would have been possible.
Given that the Nauvoo Temple was burned by fire in 1848, I suppose this model would have been a valuable source of architectural information confirming the other information we have about the Nauvoo Temple.
In any case, the fact that such a model once existed is fascinating. I’m going to keep an eye out for further information.